"Good morning, Burrell Colour Imaging and The Stockhouse." Yes-Burrell is back.
If you think the photo lab industry hasn't changed a lot in the past four-and-a-half years, just ask Don Burrell, president of Burrell Colour Imaging, LLC. "We have a lot of catching up to do," he admits. But Don isn't chasing the industry's other big portrait labs-he has a different philosophy: "We're a marketing and service company."
The closest description we could get of his marketing plan was that Burrell Colour will produce anything the customers want, film, to digital files, to small format, to large-display prints. Technology may have passed him by, but to Don, "Technology is secondary; if we can get the customers, we can find the technology to do whatever they want."
When Don Burrell sold his business to Eastman Kodak less than five years ago and semi-retired to the retail chain food industry, there were 14 Burrell photo lab facilities across the country. He owned the largest people lab conglomerate in the country. Today only two labs remain: the flagship operation is in the heart of Indiana's Corn Belt, and Curtis Color in Paducah, KY, is primarily dedicated to under-class school production.
Why did Don sell? And why did he return? At the end of the decade, Kodak chased profitable photo operations and offered them a deal they couldn't refuse. Remember Ray Hicks and Bremson Data Systems? What about them? But this is the interim part of Burrell Colour's history. It seemed that whatever entity Kodak couldn't absorb into its new digital plan was quickly sold off or shut down. Such was the story of Burrell Colour. The Kodak ownership only lasted two years; then along came Jasco Tools, Inc., a Rochester, NY, Kodak neighbor, looking for a new business.
"The tool people closed all the labs [except Crown Point], then trucked all the useless [analog] equipment back here to store, and now we have to dispose of it," laments Don. We could make some joke that Jasco thought this equipment would become viable again, but we won't go there. Don Burrell, always with a positive attitude, says, "I'm keeping one of everything: enlargers, Kodak 5S printers, Lucht package printers, Hamlin printers, roll easels, and equipment names most of us have forgotten will all be cleaned and shined to put in a photo lab museum.
"I'm an old film man; I began as a photographer," says Don. Film is still important to their business, both black-and-white and color. Their two large Hostert dip-'n'-dunk film processors are still processing. He predicts, "I think film will stay in place until digital gets as good as photo. We still sell film, Kodak, Fuji, supplied through our own Stockhouse [division]."
But gone are the 42 darkrooms and PVAC alley. "We had 36 PVACs (video analyzers) in our system, and 14 [here] in PVAC alley." Today he has one PVAC in production. "We used to have 37 people in proofing, and today there are seven. We had 28 spotters; today, only two." Right now Burrell's teams are mixing the existing production with new digital imaging trends, and they're in the middle of a huge renovation.
The digital changes did not seem to bother Don or his people. On the contrary, being an outside observer, everybody seemed to embrace new methods of producing pictures, and they were looking forward to all of the new equipment. His emphasis today is sales and marketing; his philosophy is that if you do a good job in these areas, the business will come. When he left in 2002, he employed 22 salespeople; today he retains a healthy sales staff of 11. Sales are supported by an aggressive marketing department headed by Tim Bandura. Diana Sanders, graphic designer extraordinaire, is busy churning out mailings. One of Burrell's first promotions is oversized postcards.
The Burrell Family Is Reunited
"We're rebuilding with the people who were with me when I started in the lab business," reminisces Don. "My personal philosophy is to make it a home for people. We're a family. It's an advantage to have a whole team of people who have been with me 20, 30, 40 years, and can develop a process."
Talk about family-these four people (including Don) were part of the original team when the Burrell Colour doors opened: Cindy Agans, VP, COO; Jim Letko, VP, Building Engineering; and Judy Georges, VP, Financing, are back.
Jim Letko is like the big Cat earth mover keeping the building and equipment projects moving. "I've been with Don for 44 years," he says. "I stayed [at Burrell] during the Kodak ownership but then joined him in the pizza business when the tool company came in." Jim admits that it was like coming home. "It's just a matter of catching up; the acronyms throw me and everything is in reverse from 2002. Digital was 15% and film was 85% to 95% of the business. Now film is 10%."
Jim's big project is getting ready for the Kodak NexPress that was supposed to arrive the end of the year (Kodak sent it this month, however, so everybody is scrambling). The area was not yet finished, but the 2,000-plus-square-foot space is designed to hold not just one NexPress, but five units.
What production will go on the NexPress? Don says "photo books," for one. At Graph Expo the team also contracted for press finishing equipment from Duplo USA to complement the NexPress and its binding station. Included were a document sheet feeder, automated creaser/folder/trimmer and book-maker, and coating equipment. "We will be offering a number of products that we used to offer," he says. He also speculates that some of these will soon be produced on the NexPress versus the former traditional photo methods.
Judy Georges, who has 25 years with Burrell handling the finances, has a lot of new things to learn. She also stayed with Burrell in the interim, but the pizza and ice cream businesses were not as exciting. "When we left, I could explain all the departments, but now that it's all electronic-there were no updates while we were gone. I feel he's taking the company in the right direction. He's the man with the vision. It happened so fast, it was a shock, but it was sort of like coming home."